Bonus Designing Women Thursday: When Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Annie Potts & Jean Smart had a reunion
Back in 2006, I was damned fortunate to be invited to attend a reunion of the original cast of Designing Women and it was a night I will never, ever forget.
The women had gotten together for a televised reunion a few years earlier which was their first time together in one room in more than a decade. Sadly, this night in Beverly Hills turned out to be their last public appearance together now that Dixie Carter has passed away.
Here is my coverage of the reunion:
You put Delta Burke, Jean Smart, Dixie Carter and Annie Potts together in a room and you are going to have magic.
That’s what happened Wednesday night at the Museum of Television and Radio when these four amazing actresses reunited for only the second time since “Designing Women” left the air.
They inhabited four classic sitcom characters on that show but when watching them interact as themselves, it is just as interesting…and FUNNY!
They joined the show’s brilliant creator and head writer Linda Bloodworth Thomason for the event which had a standing room only audience filled with serious “Designing Women” afficionados.
It was nice to not be the only person in the room to be mouthing the words of dialogue as the show’s classic pilot episode was screened prior to a panel discussion.
I gotta say, for a rabid “Designing Women” fan like me, this was a night I will never forget.
Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, with whom I’d had a terrific interview with last week, greeted me before the show with a great big hug and introduced me to Jean Smart. Then I chatted up Annie Potts before heading into the packed theater for the program.
Hmmm. Where to sit? I don’t know how this happened, but next thing I know, a staff member is guiding me down to the second row. Then next thing I know, the cast is escorted in and I am directly behind Linda and Delta! Annie, Jean then Dixie filled out the row. So, not only am I stoked to be sitting so near them, I get to watch THEM as they watch the pilot episode together. They would whisper to each other, give each other a look at a particularly funny moment, Jean was cackling hard during some spots and Dixie was just in a constant state of laughter.
In the pilot, her character got the most laughs so this was a real showcase for the actress. One of my favorite lines of Dixie’s is when obnoxious Ray Don Simpson (“I want to thank you…RAY DON…”) tries to join the women for lunch at a sushi restaurant saying they look like they could use a little male company. Dixie puts down her chop sticks, looks at him and says: “Trust me when I say that you have completely misjudged this situation.”
Anyway, there were some terrific lines during the panel portion and I’ll have to share those with you later today in a separate post. But what was also cool was that when I took the microphone to ask a question, Linda introduced me to the audience! Holy cow! Love her! Harry Thomason slipped into the theater after the program was underway. After it was over, he turned around and introduced himself to me.
What a heady night.
I’ll finish this later, gotta get on the freeway and head to the office.
So here are more highlights from the great “Designing Women” reunion at the Museum of Television and Radio last night. First off, I have to say that this had the feel of a loving reunion of people who love and respect each other and who honor what they created together.
This is in contrast to a “Golden Girls” reunion I attended at the museum a few years ago when Bea Arthur seemed to not even acknowledge Betty White and Rue McClanahan sat in the middle of them almost like a referee.
“There was an amazing lack of ago,” Jean Smart said of the cast. “For the first few years, every single solitary interview we’d do they’d ask, ‘Do you really get along?’ We didn’t know what they were talking about. [Did they] ask the guys on ‘Barney Miller’ that?’”
Added Delta Burke: “We all got so close and talked about everything in the world. The characters became more and more of us in them and I, of course, took some of Suzanne home with me.”
After the pilot episode was aired, the ladies took the stage and Delta Burke wanted everyone to know why she didn’t have her Southern accent. It turns out that the network honchos didn’t want the show to seem too much like “Filthy Rich,” an earlier sitcom Linda Bloodworth-Thomason created that co-starred Burke and Dixie Carter.
“I was thrilled because Dixie and I had been wanting to work with Linda again,” Delta said. “I was told I had to talk straight and that was as straight as I could get!”
Linda said she wanted to create a show using Dixie and Delta as well as Smart and Annie Potts, who had been standouts in an episode of the short-lived Robert Wagner series “Lime Street.” She didn’t quite know what she wanted the show to be about but she did know “I wanted to show women who were friends, bold in their ideas and strong in their comradrie with each other. There was no concept really – just loud-mouthed women.”
“Designing Women” was initially on the ropes with CBS. It was moved around the network’s schedule about nine times its first year then cancelled. Said Smart: “My mother couldn’t even find us. She’d call me and say, ‘What night are you on?” But the group Viewers form Quality Television, which had saved “Cagney and Lacey” from cancellation, initiated a letter-writing campaign for the sitcom and it was saved, settling into a Monday night timeslot where it would stay for most of the rest of its seven-year run.
Many Funny stories were shared at the reunion. Among them, when Carter appeared in a dream sequence wearing panty hose, but no panties underneath. Says Potts: “She made the Janet Jackson thing pale. It was the ultimate costume defect.” Carter’s husband, Hal Holbrook told her: “They saw your pretty.” At one point Smart blurted out to Burke: “Remember the episode when you drank Charlene’s breast milk!?!”
Each actress was asked to pick a favorite episode.
Smart: The show when she gives birth and Dolly Parton guest-starred as her guardian movie star. Smart was pregnant in real life and told the crowd that Wednesday was her son’s 17th birthday!
“I loved playing a character who was gullible and innocent and who took everything at face value. All the women were very distinct. Suzanne and Charlene were shockingly unliberated!”
Carter: The episode when Charlene wants to become a pastor and Julia gets to sing “How Great Thou Art” at the end. Carter’s mother was dying and that was the last episode of the show she ever saw, her daughter by her side. “She got to see her little girl sing this great Methodist hymn for the whole country.”
Potts: The episode when Mary Jo inherits some money and considers getting breast implants. She puts some fake ones on for a test run and asks Julia to go to a bar with her to see the reaction. Men are buying her drinks left and right. She turn to Julia and says, “These things are POWER!” “To do a whole show about breasts. It was, at the time, pretty provocative. People will still come up to me and say: “These things are POWER!” Carter, in the scene with Potts when the line was said, remembered that she had to ” turn around to keep from laughing. I just turned around and took a drink!”
Burke: “They Shoot Fat Women Don’t They” was the episode in season four that focused on Suzanne’s (and Delta’s) noticeable weight gain. “It was out there and no one would acknowledge it, except the tabloids. All I asked was to let me have the punchlines. I didn’t want to have all the punchlines be about me.” (For the record, Burke is now quite slim and as gorgeous as ever.)
Smart proudly pointed out that Burke was nominated for an Emmy award for that episode (as well as one the next season) while Potts boasted that Smart had actually WON a pair of Emmys (for ‘Frasier’).